Rapper Cardi B kicked off the MTV awards, where politics quickly took over with a performance highlighting Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies.
With most of music industry’s top acts absent – from Beyonce to Bruno Mars – the MTV Video Music Awards lacked star power and felt flat, and some of the winners turned heads – for the wrong reasons.
Exhibit A: Camila Cabello beat out Drake, Mars, Cardi B, Ariana Grande and Post Malone for artist of the year.
“I can’t believe this is for me,” Cabello said Monday onstage.
Neither can we.
Cabello achieved the unthinkable later in the show when she took home the top prize – video of the year – for Havana. Cabello’s song was a No. 1 hit and of the video of the year nominees, Havana was the second-most viewed clip behind Drake’s God’s Plan. But that’s partly since Havana was released last year while the other videos came out this year.
It was the night’s most shocking moment, and MTV seemed to send a message: You’re punished for not showing up and rewarded for attending.
Grande won best pop and Post Malone took home song of the year. Drake, the most successful musician of the last year, didn’t win a single award. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar were restricted to technical honours like editing, art direction, cinematography and visual effects. And Gambino picked up best direction, choreography and video with a message for his heralded video “This Is America.”
Then there was the Aretha Franklin tribute, a moment Madonna made, well, all about Madonna.
The pop icon rambled and rambled about the early struggles in her career, finally informing the crowd that she sang Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at an audition that became a breakthrough for her.
At least MTV did played a clip of Franklin, who died last week, singing I Say A Little Prayer.
A performance by Lopez started off slow, but she hit a strong stride when she sang old smashes like Jenny from the Block, I’m Real and All I Have.
Cardi B, who gave birth last month, won three awards and said people told her she was “gambling your career” when she decided to become a mother.
“I had the baby, I carried the baby and now I’m still winning awards,” she said.
Nicki Minaj won the first televised award – best hip hop – and checked comedian Tiffany Haddish for dissing girl group Fifth Harmony, now on hiatus.
There was just one political moment, orchestrated when Logic was joined onstage by young immigrants wearing T-shirts that read, “We are all human beings” to protest the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents after they illegally crossed the US-Mexico border. The rapper, best known for the suicide prevention anthem 1-800-273-8255, wore a T-shirt that read, “(Expletive) the wall.”
There was one posthumous winner: Avicii, who died in April, won for best dance for Lonely Together alongside Rita Ora.